Fear And Loathing: The Election Process
By Stephen M. Lawton
I write this, a week after the general election, the decision as to whom
will be the next president is still in doubt. What concerns me is that
by the time you read this, there still might not be resolution of this
There are those who say that the best
way to run an election is to vote electronically over the Internet. That
way, votes from citizens abroad can be tallied at the same time as those
from people here at home. Personalized smart cards (a state ID card?)
could be employed to activate voting machines. While I am a strong proponent
of using the Internet for the dissemination of information and for e-business,
I just as strongly am opposed to using it for voting. One needs to look
no further than Florida for the reasons why.
For a moment, let's say that instead
of paper ballots, we had a computer-based system with a touch screen (like
the bank's ATM machine) or stylus that "marked" the ballots.
Such a system might not be any fairer to the elderly or infirm who have
trouble marking a paper ballot, so where's the benefit? With a paper ballot,
an election official can view the intent of the voter. With a fully electronic
ballot, once it's "punched," there is no paper trail to indicate
if that was the voters' intent or indeed, their choice.
Columnist Larry Magid this month discusses
the election from the PC perspective, as well as suggesting his own balloting
method a modified version of the touch screens used in Riverside
County. The system, he notes, could also print out the voter's choices,
which could be hand-counted should the need arise. Eureka! A paper trail!
If we go the touch-screen approach,
I'd prefer a system that presents a screen to voters that lists all their
choices and requires them to press a final button to confirm their votes,
or lets them go back and make changes before confirming.
That said, I still haven't stated
my biggest fear of voting by Internet: fraud. If the Pentagon and Microsoft
computer networks aren't secure from hackers, what's to make you think
that thousands of local election networks would be? Consider the possibility
of someone stealing the Web logs to match votes to IP addresses. I can
just imagine a precinct with 10,000 voters that tallies 100,000 "votes"
for a candidate. Can't happen? Want to bet?
Another systemic change could improve
the process. Rather than voting on a workday, elections could be held
over a weekend, allowing 48 hours to vote. Not only would that increase
participation, it would also eliminate the early calling of states by
Elections should be simple and clear,
not necessarily expedient. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe
in the politically correct adage: One voter, one vote.